Help wanted: City, county struggling to fill vacancies

Published 8:37 am Monday, October 3, 2016

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nemployment rates are dropping in Kentucky and many are struggling to find qualified employees.

Local governments are especially feeling the pinch as they search for workers to fill vacancies and provide services to the residents and taxpayers.

“We noticed it first in private industry (which) said, ‘We don’t have a good workforce to draw from,’” Clark County Judge-Executive Henry Branham said. “Now it’s starting to come into the public sector. It’s really hit us hard in the last five years.”

Branham told the Clark County Fiscal Court earlier this week the county’s temporary custodian at the courthouse is leaving for a job paying $12 an hour. The county has been without an animal control officer for nearly two years. Another shelter employee recently left for a job in the private sector, he said.

Clark County Animal Shelter Director Adreanna Wills told the magistrates Wednesday after posting an advertisement in an online job site, 38 people responded but only four completed an application.

On Wednesday, the Fiscal Court voted to hire a home incarceration officer at a higher salary than the supervisor, who is going on medical leave. Branham said closing the office for six weeks could cost the county more than $100,000 in lost revenue.

Clark County Road Supervisor Kevin Wilson said he has two vacancies at the road department. It’s hard to attract qualified employees when private companies are paying more, he said.

“In the past two years, I’ve lost over 100 years of (work) experience,” Wilson said. “That’s hard to replace.”

Wilson said he advertised online as well and received two applications. One of those claimed to be from Nigeria, he said.

“It’s hard to compete with the private sector,” he said. “People with construction jobs already have jobs making good money.”

There has been a bit of a shift in where employees go.

“We’ve always lost firefighters to the city because of the pay scale,” Branham said. “We’ve always lost sheriff’s deputies to the city because of pay scale. We’re losing more to the private sector than ever before.”

The county is not alone in its staffing struggles.

“You look around central Kentucky and we’re all in the same dilemma,” Winchester City Manager Matt Belcher said. “We all have budgets and constraints. It all depends on revenue. It depends on pay and equipment. Right now, where we’re struggling is our EMS and operations.”

The Winchester Board of Commissioners recently voted to increase the starting pay for part-time patient transfer specialists, for both EMTs and paramedics, to hopefully attract more applicants.

Winchester Fire-EMS Chief Cathy Rigney said it’s too soon to tell whether the pay bump has helped.

“I know we’ve had some interest. We’ve put it out in emails and on our Facebook page. We are getting some calls. We’ve gotten a couple applications.

“For the ones currently here, they’re loving it,” Rigney said. “They’re very grateful and happy.”

The raise was long overdue, she said.

“That’s one thing you have to do to stay competitive in the job market,” she said.

“We tried to hire entry-level (positions) at $10 an hour,” Branham said. “The Fiscal Court increased that to $12 and we’ve still not had any success.”

Staying competitive is a challenge while balancing other priorities, Branham and Belcher said.

“From an administrative standpoint, it’s difficult because people expect and deserve those services to be there and we have a responsibility to respond. We struggled for six months to find custodial staff. We have to hire temporary help during tax season.

“It’s a constant struggle to keep up,” Belcher said, “but we do the best we can.”

Contact Fred Petke at fred.petke@winchestersun.com.

About Fred Petke

Fred Petke is a reporter for The Winchester Sun, the Jessamine Journal and the State Journal. His beats include cops, courts, fire, public records, city and county government and other news. To contact Fred, email fred.petke@bluegrassnewsmedia.com or call 859-759-0051.

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